After nearly two decades serving within the denomination known as the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), Rev. Adam Phillips and his new year-old new church start, Christ Church, Portland, found themselves without a denominational home, a facility to worship in and $90,000 of funding, promised to them by the ECC who charged them with the new church start-up.
Phillips served three congregations over the years and attended seminary under the care of the ECC, all the while with the leadership’s knowledge of his position on LGBTQ equality. The problems arose, however, when his advocacy went from being an implicit understanding to being part of his church’s inclusion statement on their website. He was ordered to take the statement down, and when he refused, they threatened to revoke not only his funding and standing within the ECC, but even suggested his ministerial ordination hung in the balance.
Still, Rev. Phillips and his congregation did not waver. Though such inclusion is only one part of their ministerial identity, such open, public statements were more precious to them than the risks posed by the threats levied against them by the ECC. And soon enough, those risks were realized.
Since their forced exodus from the ECC, they have received both a flood of support from those within the ECC who are less willing to go public in their advocacy, as well as those who suggest their support for LGBTQ persons is tearing at the very fabric of the ECC family. He has received threats and insults that are hard to imagine would be penned by sisters and brothers within the larger family of Christ.
I’ve included an article recently by Phillips here on this blog, and we just launched a new Homebrewed Christianity CultureCast episode with an extensive interview with him. But since the article and other local interest in their story, they’ve been contacted and/or featured by TIME, Washington Post, Glenn Beck (ack!), The Blaze, NPR, The Oregonian and others.
So yeah, we pretty much scooped all those punks. Anyway, on to my interview with Adam Phillips.
Explain how you ended up in Portland and what the statement was that caused the conflict.
A year and a half ago my wife and I moved to Portland, called by the Evangelical Covenant Church, to start a new congregation here called Christ Church: Portland (www.christchurchpdx.org). Our vision has always been to be an inclusive, holistically engaged evangelical church for “God’s glory & neighbor’s good.” I’ve been part of the Covenant church for two decades (as Covenant minister since 2006), serving churches in Chicago, Washington, DC as well as working on global poverty initiatives such as the ONE Campaign and partnerships with World Vision and others. Since my time at North Park Theological Seminary to today I’ve held strong convictions for the full inclusion of LGBT folks into the whole life of the church. I was assured all along the way that it was safe for me to hold these personal convictions. The ECC holds a policy around human sexuality that includes celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage between one husband and one wife as the Christian standard. I agree and affirm the arc of this policy – simply holding a conviction that LGBT Christians may be invited to either celibacy in singleness or Christian, covenantal fidelity in marriage and family. Something suddenly changed late last year which led to our dismissal in early February.
The news was fairly sudden – after a few months of conversations with regional and national leaders, I had a lengthy meeting with Covenant leaders on February 4th, and got a phone call later that night. It’s all been so confusing – there doesn’t seem to be a process or much of a precedent for this. What is doubly confusing is that they are allowing me to maintain my ordination. I have a meeting in a month or so to learn the parameters of my ordination, serving in a church that is no longer a Covenant affiliated congregation. I have not heard much from denominational leaders except for a dear friend who remains in leadership in Chicago who checks in every few days to see how we’re doing. I’m extremely grateful for his kindness.
How have the people within your congregation responded to the separation, as well as the public attention?
Folks at Christ Church are definitely grieving this decision. We had a powerful congregational meeting last Sunday where people were able to process out loud and we were able to discern some next steps together. They’ve surrounded Sarah and me in prayer. They’ve just been awesome – all immensely supportive – and what’s amazing is that our local church is not monolithic in its convictions. I think we model what beautiful possibilities are for churches willing to step out in faith on these matters. They were concerned that I was carrying the burden of this news by myself – so we’re going to share some thoughts from church members in the next week or so.
You have been getting some criticism both from the right and the left about your position. What have been the criticisms, and how have you been trying to respond?
I’m a classic Covenanter! We’ve always been too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals. Some folks think that my theology is beyond the pale – I’ve received some extremely fundamentalist claims that God’s wrath is in store for me. On the more progressive side, folks have voiced concern that I have not gone far enough to denounce Reparative Therapies, for instance. I take those critiques very seriously. While I remain convinced, as so many in the former reparative therapy movement now do, that RT is not the only answer on LGBT matters, I respect the testimony of those Christians for whom it has brought great healing and grace in their lives.
LGBT Justice has not necessarily been the defining identity of your congregation before all of this. So how are you holding fast to your convictions well also not letting this experience define you and your ministry?
“Inclusion” drives this for all of us. Inclusion is one of our 5 ethos statements (core values): “Everyone is welcome, because everyone is uniquely loved and included by God.” So for us, this drives how we organize for worship, for study and prayer, for mission, for acts of compassion, mercy and justice. How do we include all of our kids in the life of the church – including our kids with special needs? How do we include all of our neighbors in our gentrified, racially-stratified city of Portland? LGBT matters are part of this equation for us, not out of some sort of political statement or activism, but simply because it is at the heart of who God is, who as we know in Jesus, always includes.
What is Christ Church doing now and what are your plans moving forward?
We keep pushing forward in faith. We’re busy trying to raise back the funds we lost when the Covenant severed ties with us (we were only 1 year into a 3 year, $150,000 appropriations commitment). We’ve launched an indiegogo campaign (http://igg.me/at/christchurchpdx/x/2867278). We’ve moved our worship down to First Christian Church downtown – and have our first worship gathering there this Sunday at 4:30pm. We’ve got big plans for children’s ministry and partnership with a local public school taking shape. We’re trying to figure out what our role is in homelessness and housing solutions. We’re just getting started. Pray for us!
Watch Adam’s video about the recent events HERE: